Oh look, people are overreacting about something Apple has done again

As sure as the as the sun rises, water is wet, or cats will chose exactly the most inappropriate moment to start doing something, the tech blogging world is once again up in arms over something Apple has done.

We’ve had ‘Antennagate’, ‘Locationgate’, and now we have what must inevitably be called ‘PublishingRightsgate’, because the American media always attach the ‘gate’ suffix to things when they want them to sound serious (the British media just adds the word ‘scandal’ in as big and bold lettering as they can, and will usually find some woman in a low-slung top to personify the whole thing).

The story is this: anyone using Apple’s newly-announced iBooks Author app to create a book is limited to selling that book through Apple’s own iBookstore (‘iBookstore’ still looks like an overly cluttered word to me. It should be iBooks Store, as in iTunes Store or App Store. Crap, now I’ve written ‘store’ too many times and it doesn’t look like a real word anymore. Where was I? Oh yes, iBooks Author). You can only sell your book through Apple; you can’t also sell it through Amazon’s competing Kindle bookstore.

This has the tech world up in arms, it seems. TechRadar, MacRumors, and AppleInsider have all picked up on the story, not to mention numerous ‘independent’ bloggers.

Overlooking the current technical issue that the iBook format iBooks Author will export is not compatible with anything other than Apple’s own iBooks 2 app (although as it is all built with open standards there is the possibility of someone building a compatible reader for another platform), the concern is that Apple are once again restricting what people can do with their technology. It is akin, as some have put it, to Microsoft restricting what you can do with your Word documents.

Except, of course, that it isn’t.

There are numerous word processors out there. Most are, in one way or another, interoperable. The Word .doc file format is an industry standard.

For iBooks, Apple have spent the time and money to develop a new platform, and built an incredibly powerful tool to produce material for that platform, which they are giving away for free. Now, I may not have done Business Studies at school, but even I know that that, in and of itself, is not a solid business plan. The money has to come from somewhere. To do this, Apple are ensuring that if you are going to charge for your work, that you let them have a cut of the profits. If you are planning on giving the book away for free, you can do what you like with it; email it, put it on a website, upload it to a USB drive and throw it in the bin, whatever. Apple don’t want to people to be using their own software to benefit their competitors.

The overreactions from most of the blog world seem to revolve around authors losing the rights to their books. This is nonsense, and here’s why:

The contentious article of the iBooks licensing agreement reads thus:

B. Distribution of your Work. As a condition of this License and provided you are in compliance with its terms, your Work may be distributed as follows:
(i) if your Work is provided for free (at no charge), you may distribute the Work by any available means;

(ii) if your Work is provided for a fee (including as part of any subscription-based product or service), you may only distribute the Work through Apple and such distribution is subject to the following limitations and conditions: (a) you will be required to enter into a separate written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary) before any commercial distribution of your Work may take place; and (b) Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution.

Earlier in the agreement, the meaning of “Work” is also clarified:

If you charge a fee for any book or other work you generate using this software (a “Work”), you may only sell or distribute such Work through Apple (e.g., through the iBookstore) and such distribution will be subject to a separate agreement with Apple.

Apple clearly state that a “Work” – that is, the product that they are exerting control over in section B of the agreement – is whatever is created by the iBooks Author software. What it is not doing, however, is staking a claim on the content of the book. In other words, there is nothing stopping you from creating a copy of the book with another publishing tool and selling it in another online retailer. The downside is that such a book might not be quite as full-featured as anything made in the Apple Software.

So, to sum up this current furore: Apple have spent who knows how long building a new textbook platform and a highly engineered publishing tool to facilitate said platform, and provided it for free, and all they ask in return is that if you create any books with the tool that they have a cut of any profits and are exclusive to their platform – despite the format not being compatible with any other platforms. You are still free to make and sell the same book with another tool or service – even as an app in the App Store – and you don’t lose the copyright to your book or its content.

And this is bad, apparently.

Just sayin’: Android hits 500,000 activations a day

Google, apparently, is activating 500,000 Android devices a day. That is an impressive number by anyone’s metric. The last instance I can find with my (admittedly very brief) Google search was 230,000 a day, last September.

That isn’t the point of this post.

I couldn’t help but notice the wording on one of the blogs that reported on Google’s new activations landmark.

At Google I/O in early May, the company boasted that activations were up to 400,000 a day with 100 million cumulative device activations, representing 36 OEMS, 215 Carriers and 310 devices. The pace of growth has been staggering for Android, which hit the 100,000 activations per day milestone in May 2010. By December 2010, that number was up to 300,000 a day.

Now with Honeycomb (an Android variant) tablets hitting the market, the device activations are being supplemented by larger tablet devices, not just smartphones. Indeed, almost every company is putting out a tablet these days, most built off of Google’s Android operating system.

(emphasis mine).

Now, that’s a pretty ambivalent sort of comment, isn’t it? Sure, most manufacturers that are producing tablets are using Android in one way or another, but the vast majority of the tablets out there are still iPads running iOS. And I’ll bet the majority of the Android tablets out there aren’t running the tablet optimised “Honeycomb” variation of Android.

Just sayin’.

Will Thunderbolt come to the iPhone and iPods this year?

I had a thought today that perhaps Apple will be bringing the new Thunderbolt technology to its lineup of iPhones and iPods in their next generations.

This is purely speculation on my part, but let me outline why I think this is a possibility.

Firstly, it is increasingly evident that the new iPhone will not be here until August at the earliest, probably not till September. The new iPods are also in the same sort of timeframe, as I detailed earlier this week.

By that time, the entire Mac lineup should feature Thunderbolt, as the Mac mini, MacBook Airs and Mac Pro are all expected to be updated in the next couple of months and Apple has included Thunderbolt in each new Mac iteration since first announcing it in February’s MacBook Pro refresh.

Apple is also known to be hiring people for its Thunderbolt team, and it is obvious that they see the technology as the future ahead of USB 3.0 and even their own (still unreleased and of currently unknown future) FireWire 1600 and 3200 updates.

With the entire Mac range equipped with Thunderbolt by the time of the expected announcement of the next iPhone, what better way to continue pushing the new technology than by rolling it into their consumer electronic devices? With proven data transfer speeds of 827MB a second, a cabled sync will take seconds, no matter how much data was being transferred.

There are a few problems with this theory, however. The first is that rolling out Thunderbolt could potentially undermine the new WiFi Sync feature of iOS 5 – whether Apple will see this as a problem is another matter, and the two features are likely to speak to two different types of user.

Secondly, it is not known (or at least, I don’t know, which for the purposes of this article amounts to the same thing) how backwards-compatible a Thunderbolt iPhone will be with the vast majority of Mac users who will still need to use USB to sync. But then that loops me back to that first point – WiFi Sync could actually replace USB sync on these new iPhones with Thunderbolt as a feature there for ‘power’ users.

The only other hurdle I can think of is the expense of including Thunderbolt in a consumer electronics device which Apple is continually trying to reduce the cost of building, especially with constant rumours of a cheaper, smaller ‘iPhone Nano’ (which, it has been speculated, could possibly replace the iPod touch if it got cheap enough).

There have been currently no rumours on this front, which is why this post is entirely speculation. But Apple have a long history of dropping technology for the next best thing when it suits them, so maybe, just maybe, this will become a reality sooner than we think.

Note: whilst writing this post, AppleInsider published a story stating that the component cost of adding Thunderbolt to consumer devices was stunting adoption of the new technology. Whilst this may be true, Apple themselves are more familiar with Thunderbolt than most manufacturers as they were involved in its development and may be able to achieve compatibility for cheaper. Or, this may be part of what Apple was talking about when they speak of reduced margins at their earnings calls.

Apple continues to mess with release schedule to keep competitors, customers guessing

For quite a few years, Apple’s consumer electronics have been on a contant and predictable yearly update cycle; a new iPad before Easter, a new iPhone in the summer, new iPods in September.

This year, however, they are doing things a little differently.

We first saw indications that Apple were going to play around with their release schedule in February, when John Gruber theorised that Apple may surprise us all by releasing the iPad 3 in September, only six months after the (at that time unannounced) iPad 2. Not long after, we started hearing reports that the iPhone 5 would be delayed, possibly until the start of 2012.

All of these were dismissed as speculation at the time. Apple’s update cycles were constant and not to be meddled with; no iPhone in June or July was against the natural order.

Since then, evidence – and evidence, not just speculation – has been building up that Apple’s release cycle is being mangled by the company. Let’s take a look at this on a product-by-product (or product family where appropriate) basis.

The iPhone

Previous years have seen a consistent iPhone pattern. A preview of the new version of iOS in March or April was followed by an announcement of the new iPhone hardware at WWDC in June, ahead of a July release. This happened in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

But not in 2011.

It is now late June. WWDC has come and gone. The first preview we saw of the new version of iOS – iOS 5 – was at WWDC itself, and there has been no mention of a new iPhone in official channels anywhere. Current speculation (save for one new rumour suggesting an August release) suggests a release in September at the time when Apple usually announces the new iPod lineup, in time for the lucrative Xmas period.

The release of the Verizon (née CMDA) iPhone in February and the long-awaited white iPhone 4 in April are probably related to the next iPhone’s belated launch. Whether they are seen as excuses for Apple to push a release of an iPhone 5 back a few months with the promise of ‘new’ intermediate hardware, or are even perhaps the causes of a delay to the iPhone 5, we may never know.

The iPods

Apple’s iPod cycles have been equally as predictable as the iPhone’s, and for far longer. And yet, we are already seeing deviations from the ordinary on this front.

Usually, new iPods are announced in September; the preceding three months feature Apple’s annual ‘Back to School’ promotion where any eligible educational purchaser can get a free iPod when buying a Mac. This helps clear out iPod inventory ahead of the September refresh.

This too has been thrown out of the window, it seems. This year’s Back to School promotion features not a free iPod, but a £65 voucher for the Mac App Store. There are only a few reasons why Apple are doing this; either it was going to cost them too much with possible reduced margins on Macs to include an iPod with every purchase, perhaps they have been far more prudent than in recent years with regards to reserve inventory, or they need to maintain supplies of iPods a little longer in order to refresh the lineup a little later than usual (a fourth option is of course that someone at Apple genuinely believes that students would rather have £65 to spend on apps than a free iPod). This would allow the next iPhone’s rumoured September release to have the stage all to itself.

The iPad

The iPad, being a relative newcomer to Apple’s product lineup, doesn’t have the long history of release schedules as its siblings. In fact, two releases is by no means enough to establish a reliable pattern. However, both of these releases have taken place not long before Easter so it is not presumptuous to assume that the next iPad should be here in March or April 2012.

Right?

However, with the evidence that Apple is already playing about with its expected release schedule, combined with a new rumour suggesting a September release and increased competition from other tablet makers, it is no longer far fetched to say that we could see the iPad 3 before the end of 2011. Releasing the iPad 3 as much as six months ahead of its expected release date, as the rest of the tablet market (such that it is) scrambles to catch up with the iPad 2, will cement its place as the only tablet worth buying for years to come.

It is possible that Apple are looking to align all of their consumer products to a single release cycle in September, in time for the Xmas shopping rush where Apple usually makes the most money. By delaying the iPhone 5 by three months, and bringing the iPad 3 forward six months, Apple’s competitors will be struggling to keep tracks with what used to be a reliable schedule.

Alternatively, perhaps the days of annual, reliable update cycles from Apple are the thing of the past. Previously everyone knew when to expect the iPhone, iPod or iPad, and as such sales will decline noticeably after about nine months of a product being on sale, in anticipation of a newer, greater model just around the corner. But it isn’t just the customers who notice these release trends; Apple’s competitors do too, and seem to be beginning to rely on the annual cycle to push out newer technologies long before an iPhone update.

Regardless, for now we’ll have to wait and see what Apple has up its sleeve.

Why the original creator of WiFi Sync probably doesn’t have a leg to stand on

One thing that was quickly remarked upon after Apple’s announcements at last week’s WWDC Keynote was that once again Apple had effectively rendered some third party apps redundant, such as most basic ToDo apps.

What was also remarked was the ‘curious’ similarity between iOS 5’s new WiFi Sync feature and a jailbreak-only app that was rejected from the App Store last year. As it was originally submitted to Apple, developer Greg Hughes finds it awfully suspicious that it is now available as part of the OS and with the same name and logo to boot, and is seeking legal advice.

To all this, I say codswallop.

Let’s take a look at this and see why Greg Hughes probably doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on*.

*note: I know little of the law, I am just, as I often do, calling it as I see it.

The name

WiFi Sync vs WiFi Sync. How exactly can Apple think no-one will notice the near-identical names and purposes of these features?  But hang on. What, exactly, is it that this new feature of iOS is offering? Syncing over WiFi. How many choices are there for names that explain exactly what’s going on without overcomplicating things? My list comprises of Syncing Over WiFi or WiFi Sync. As you’d expect from Apple, they went for the snappier one.

It goes a little beyond that, of course. This sounds all very similar to the trademark battle Apple is currently fighting over the mark ‘App Store’. Isn’t it a little hypocritical of Apple to defend one mark whilst trampling all over another? Well, apart from the fact that ‘WiFi’ and ‘Sync’ are in common usage and have been for years, while ‘app’ is something that only started to come into use with the launch of Apple’s App Store? Oh, right.

This is already looking like less of a ‘coincidence’ to me. But what about that logo? How can that be explained away?

The logo

TUAW raises the notion that the similarity between the two logos is either an ‘amazing coincidence’ or a case of Apple plagiarism. At first, the evidence seems pretty damming. This is the ‘original’ WiFi Sync logo:

And this is Apple’s ‘new’ WiFi Sync logo:

Well look at that. How can Apple possibly think they could get away with this one?

Except, let’s take a closer look at the logo itself. Don’t the elements of both of them look familiar?

Ah yes. It looks to me like Apple’s long-standard WiFi icon inside the almost as long-standing iSync icon. Here they are separately:

WiFi. Sync. This is all starting to make a lot more sense.

So, unless Mr Hughes can provide proof that Apple have in some way stolen the mechanism with which his app worked, he likely won’t get anywhere. Of course, the press do enjoy a good underdog-versus-major-corporation story, so expect them to milk it for a little while, alongside pictures of Greg looking a bit upset. Okay, he doesn’t really pull it off in that example. But still.

The iPad Experiment

Long story short, I’ve been promoted in my day job. With it comes a new problem; my desk will will contain a Mac Pro workstation for editing. However, as my role as a Supervisor I’ll also have to do admin type things, something that would take up resources and time from the edit machine. It’s also a relatively open access machine, meaning I wouldn’t want Mail running with all my email accounts accessible whilst someone else is using the computer.

The problem is this: with a dual-monitor edit station there will be no room on my desk for another computer for admin. I could, I suppose, set up my existing admin computer – a Mac mini – somewhere else and use Back to my Mac to connect to that, but that itself has its own issues; firstly, I’ve found BtmM to be at times unreliable, secondly the lack of audio in Back to my Mac means I wouldn’t get audible alerts for emails etc, and finally it would still require running something on the edit Mac, only this time something that will pinch valuable network bandwidth.

The solution I have come up with is a good one, and to my knowledge it has not been publicly tried before. This solution is somewhat theoretical, but I’ve decided to throw myself into it headfirst.

The solution is The iPad Experiment.

The Theory

So, I thought to myself, what exactly do I need from an admin computer? I managed to sum up the key requirements in two words: Exchange, and iWork. Exchange for access to Mail and Calendars, and iWork for the inevitable word processing, Keynote presentations and spreadsheets I’ll have to deal with (I should note that I’m saying iWork, as opposed to Office, simply because that’s what I currently use on my admin computer).

What else do I need from an admin computer? In my current situation, it needs to be compact and take up as little space as possible, in all possible dimensions (small footprint, not too tall, not too wide… basically, not an iMac which, although it has a small footprint, takes up quite a bit of space). The Mac mini is obviously a diminutive computer, but still needs a monitor which will likely take up as much space as an iMac.

It should also be portable. It needs to be portable because it will be sharing a relatively small desk with a Mac Pro which I, and my colleagues, need to be able to get unfettered access to when necessary.

When it comes down to it, the best device that ticks all of these boxes is the iPad.

In Practice

So how, exactly, am I going to be able to use an iPad of all things as a replacement for an office desktop? As far as I’m concerned, it’s relatively simple. The iPad provides email, internet, calendars, word processing, slide presentation and spreadsheets, as well as being able to preview a number of files formats either directly or through third party applications. This is pretty much all I need.

I’ve loaded up my new iPad with various software, from the iWork collection to AutoCAD to note taking and doodling apps.

As for getting files onto the iPad, I will primarily use my iDisk. I will be looking into Dropbox as well. Certain larger files, such as videos for previewing to clients, I will sync via iTunes at home to avoid relying on a network connection for such a large data file.

For typing, I’ve bought an Apple Bluetooth Keyboard which will allow me to type at speed or in bulk. To be honest the on-screen keyboard, especially in landscape mode, is pretty much as good as a physical keyboard for most small typing tasks.

Known Issues

There are some problems I know I will encounter in trying to use solely an iPad as an office/admin computer. Firstly, printing. In initial testing I’ve not been able to get AirPrint working over our network with our networked printer – I’m guessing it’s because the printer is not connected directly to the Mac. I will be looking more into this in the coming weeks.

Secondly, our fault management system’s thin client is not compatible with Safari or Mobile Safari. The creators of the system have made a simple iOS app for it but this does not appear to be compatible with our installation at this time. This is something I am simply going to have to fall back to Firefox on OS X for.

We also have a shared network drive which we use to move and share large files. Unfortunately the iPad cannot connect to this, unless I can find a way of it presenting itself as a WebDAV drive (a cursory Google search showed a glimmer of hope on this front).

Benefits

There are some other significant benefits to using the iPad over, say, a laptop or desktop machine.

I can easily grab my iPad to take to a meeting, or stroll around rooms. My office becomes truly mobile as I can set up on any desk instantly without having to lug too much weight around.

Since it has handwriting recognition apps (third party) I can scribble notes without using paper that I’d inevitably lose (or have to file somewhere, or type up); the video playback means I can take sample or rough cut videos to client meetings (and if I make them in the right format, actually edit them on the fly during the meeting with iMovie) and since it is my primary machine, if I’m in a meeting I’ll more than likely have the file being discussed to hand, even if I’d forgotten about it.

I can also easily pick up my work on the train, since i have a 3G iPad I can send and receive emails as if I was in the office without one of those silly 3G dongles hanging out of the side of a laptop, threatening to damage a USB port if someone bumps it.

The Start

Moving up into my new role has proven a bit of a distraction from writing my blogs as I settle in, so whereas this post was originally meant to be posted whilst I waited for the iPad 2 to be delivered, I must say that the iPad Experiment is already in full swing. The results of those weeks will be covered in a forthcoming post, The iPad Experiment: The First Two Weeks.

It’s Fastest Finger First as Apple allows online reservations for iPad 2

All over the UK (and select other countries, including Canada but not, for some reason, the US) a new game is becoming popular. Every evening, at at a few minutes to nine in the evening, people across the globe are sitting at their computers, trying their luck at getting their hands on the big prize. Only a few make it. Most are disappointed.

Apple have enabled reservations for the iPad 2 in Canada, the UK, France, Germany and presumably every international iPad 2 country in which Apple has a retail presence. Quite why they’re not doing it in the US I don’t know – I can only presume the fact that America has the lion’s share of Apple Retail Stores makes it too much if a challenge.

At 9pm every evening, Apple makes a selection of iPads available for reservation for pickup the next day via their retail store webpages. If you’re quick, you might be lucky. I was lucky enough to reserve one for the Covent Garden store yesterday and picked up a fresh iPad 2 this afternoon.

Whilst picking it up, the Apple Store employee I was chatting to said that at 9pm in the store you can often find the security guards furiously refreshing the pages trying to get their hands on one.

With reports of queues still forming in the US, it is refreshing to see that we actually may have it better than America for trying to get ahold of Apple’s latest gadget.

I should also note, if you think it’s hard to get your hands on an iPad 2, spare a thought for those after the red leather Smart Cover or the iPad 2 Dock, both of which are, I discovered today, even more elusive.

iPad 2 goes on sale in the UK amid long queues, online ordering issues

The queue for the iPad 2 as of 8.30am this morning. From ipad2queue.co.uk.

The iPad 2 has finally gone on sale in the UK. Queues around the country have been long at Apple’s official retail outlets, numbering in the hundreds in many cases.

Online orders began around 12.30am in the early hours of this morning. Unlike US customers, UK customers were met with 2-3 week shipping times from the start (compared to US users’ 3-5 days). These times have now slipped to 3-4 weeks.

Numerous users reported checkout errors and were unable to complete their orders – some of these later reports to have inadvertently ordered several iPads. Users have also found themselves unsure of their order status due to the order checking pages on the UK Apple Store being non-functional most of the day (it appears to be working currently, although it is still a little sluggish).

Queues will probably last into the evening, and there are reports of queuers going away disappointed. It is not clear at this time how long shortages may continue.

Current queue statuses can best be obtained from the dedicated iPad 2 Queue blog, ipad2queue.co.uk.

Is the shortage of iPad 2s deliberate?

Image: eviltwin (Flickr)

Once again another Apple product launch has resulted in long lines and an apparent complete sellout of the product.

Just this morning, the shipping times on the online Apple Store have slipped again, this time to 4-5 weeks.

Every time this happens I face claims from my colleagues that the shortages of the new product is a deliberate ploy by Apple in order to increase demand by making it appear ‘limited’ in supply, thus making it more desirable, as well as increasing publicity for the company and its new product.

That’s a load of tosh, if you ask me.

When it comes down to it, what is better for Apple? Seeing queues reportedly almost 3,000 strong at a single store, and yet turning many people away disappointed, or selling an iPad to everyone who wants one, making millions more dollars and having some wapping great sales figures to boot?

As far as I’m concerned, it makes no sense for Apple to fake a shortage. There’s no need to artificially inflate the desirability of the iPad 2; it’ll sell like hotcakes regardless. And anyway, any small gains they might make with an increase in demand caused by manipulating stock levels are nothing compared to the amount of money they’d make if they could fully meet demand from day one.

Plus, I seriously doubt anyone can mass produce a device like the iPad 2 in such quantities in such a space of time.

Rest assured, for those of you in States, and those in Europe when the iPad 2 launches next week, Apple will be doing their best to get an iPad into the hands of everyone who wants one (according to their press release, which I believe is identical to the one from last year’s iPad and iPhone 4 launches).

iPad 2 reviews start appearing

With only a day to go until the iPad 2 launches in the US (why, WHY make us wait another two weeks in the UK, Apple? WHY?!), the reviews are beginning to appear from all those even luckier bastards who have got their hands on a review model.

At the risk of sounding lazy, AppleInsider has a pretty decent roundup of the reviews so far.

My own points to note:

 

John Gruber, Daring Fireball:

Smart Covers are so cool that I can imagine iPad 1 owners who think they’re happy to stick with what they’ve got changing their minds and deciding to upgrade upon seeing Smart Covers in person.

 

And from Engadget:

In all, it’s an incredibly handsome and svelte package. Pictures don’t quite do the iPad 2 justice — it feels really, really great in your hands. Not only does the construction give it a feeling of heft and permanence, but the thin profile combined with the new, tapered edges make holding the device a real joy. Apple is known for its industrial design, and they didn’t just chew scenery here; the iPad 2 is beautifully and thoughtfully crafted.

One of Engadget’s accompanying pictures also puts into perspective the difference between the two tablets in a way better than any of Apple’s promotional imagery:

It looks like the iPad 2 compared to the iPad is on a par with the MacBook Air display compared to the MacBook Pro. Very impressive. March 25th can’t come soon enough.